WASHINGTON – DREAMer Araceli Mendez had to work cleaning houses instead of going to college after she finished high school. Though the 21-year-old New York City resident had good grades and was accepted into five schools, she was an undocumented immigrant and could not afford the cost of a higher education.
“The fact that I was an immigrant always made me to strive for more. I didn’t want to work in factories like my mom … so I was always working extra hard for those A grades in every single one of my classes.”
Mendez, who is now a nursing major at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, is one of the first recipients of TheDream.US, a new scholarship for DREAMers – the children of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
CEO Donald Graham, CEO of Graham Holdings Co; Henry Munoz III, finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee; and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Guiterrez announced the $25 million fund’s creation at a news conference at the Newseum on Tuesday. Their fund is the nation’s largest scholarship endowment for undocumented students, the financiers said.
Graham said the fund will help 1,000 students during the next academic year, but there are millions who need help.
“Why help DREAMers?” he asked. “Because it will be terrible for them and our country if we do not, because there is no telling what many of them will accomplish in their lives.”
Because of their undocumented status, DREAMers are ineligible for federal loans, Pell Grants and other financial aid from the government. Nineteen states allow DREAMers to pay in-state tuition costs for public colleges and universities, but obtaining a higher education is still out of reach for many.
“For DREAMers, however, these huge benefits of higher education too often remain a mere fantasy because of short-sided public policies that deny them financial aid,” said Pat McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Arizona, Georgia and Indiana prohibit undocumented students from paying in-state tuition rates. Alabama and South Carolina do not allow DREAMers to enroll at any public college or university, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Earlier this month, a group of senators and House members launched a joint effort to lower the cost of college for DREAMers. The IN-STATE for Dreamers Act aims to provide an additional $750 million over ten years in need-based college financial aid to states that allow undocumented states to pay in-state tuition costs and make them eligible for financial aid.
TheDream.US scholarship is for students attending pre-approved colleges in New York, Texas, Florida and Washington D.C., including Trinity Washington University. Recipients can also attend Mount Washington College online.
TheDream.US scholarship applicants must graduate from a U.S. high school with a 2.5 or higher GPA and have demonstrated financial need. They also must qualify for the Department of Homeland Security’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which stems from a directive issued by the White House in June 2012. It allows the children of undocumented immigrants to live and work in the U.S.
These children would have benefited from the DREAM Act, which has been introduced multiple times in Congress with the intent of providing them with the opportunity to attend college.
DREAMer Araceli Mendez said she is encouraged by recent political developments and is optimistic about the future for undocumented students.
“I want to say to others like myself who are undocumented and think that their goals are impossible to think again because anything it is possible,” she said.